Lefties, Pencil Holders & Punishment

Who remembers being smacked for being left handed?

Punishment works, it’s true. I was smacked at school for the way I held my pencil. Did it stop me holding my pencil that way? It did – in front of the teacher, but no, it didn’t stop me. Some people are left-handed. They used to be smacked too. Seems silly doesn’t it, but that’s how it was at school back then. Wouldn’t happen any more would it?

So, why do some people still think punishment works well for animals? Why is it OK to smack dogs, choke them on chains & prong collars or shock them when they do the “wrong” thing, like writing left-handed? Dogs are just being dogs. It’s up to us to show them what we want them to do.

In an era where tolerance and acceptance of differences is taught in schools, why aren’t we teaching how to understand animals and how to train them without causing fear and pain through punishment?

Some people still hang onto punishment as an effective or “balanced” way of training for dogs. They justify using punishment by making claims that positive reinforcement methods aren’t effective, are just bribery and you’ll have to walk around with a sausage in your pocket for the rest of your days! There’s nothing balanced about shocking a dog on an electronic collar and then saying “good boy”. Hell, I wouldn’t trust someone if they hurt me, then wanted to be friends. How could you trust someone that inconsistent and unpredictable? By, the way, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. Make sure they are qualified, accredited & registered with your Local Council.

Dogs in Movies – how are they trained?

The bottom line is no matter what the trade, there are good and bad operators. Next time you see a TV commercial or movie with dogs in it doing cool or funny things and wonder how the hell they trained that …. the answer is a bloody good positive reinforcement trainer did it, that’s who! Australia has heaps of them. Some of us run classes.

Punishment isn’t fun and dogs that learn to avoid being punished usually don’t offer cool behaviours – the ones you see shaped by amazing trainers for TV. Did you see Legally Blonde, the stage show? No punishment trainer will ever get a gig like that. Day after day, show after show, those little dogs just kept on working – because it was fun and they were powerfully rewarded for their hard work, off lead, on a stage, in front of hundreds of people!

So how does the dog know it’s done the wrong thing?

Don’t think for a minute that because we don’t physically punish dogs, that we let them get away with murder. Not true. When I started at the dog club in the early 90s I was told I’d never train an Airedale Terrier to do anything. They were absolutely right. When I chucked out the choke chain & embraced reward based methods, life changed for me and my dogs and we haven’t looked back. Best thing is you can use reward-based methods for any animal, not just dogs.

Some of you may ask “how does the dog know it’s done the wrong thing?” or “How do you correct the wrong thing?” Good point. So many people punish dogs for the “wrong” thing – hell, we did ourselves! What ‘s the point wasting time & punishing the “wrong” thing if you never show the animal what the “right” thing is.That is the key to shaping behaviour you want. Show the animal how to do the right thing, set them up for success, reinforce it powerfully and reap the results! Yes, it takes practice, but it will work and you will have a longstanding result with a happy dog, not a miserable animal who is forced to do something against its will.

Back to how I hold a pencil? I went on to college after school and somehow managed to learn to take shorthand at over 120 words per minute. Not bad for someone whose pencil holding skills were “wrong”. Oh, and I can call my untrainable dogs away from hunting possums in the tree too!

Stop telling your learner they’ve got it wrong  ….

Start rewarding them when they get it right!

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